2018 | Unrated (hard R equivalent) | starring Malgorzata Kozuchowska | directed by Patryk Vega | 1 hr 33 mins | In Polish with English Subtitles |
The first time, well second time, we meet street cop Helena Rus (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) she slides her car to a stop into a pile of empty boxes, barks out orders to secure the crime scene, and demands a nearby merchant get her a sweet pastry before, taking one bite and immediately trashing the rest. She’s a Tough Cop in neon letters. A damn good cop. The crime scene in question is a cow hide found in an open market with a body stitched inside. When a second body turns up the next day in an equally ghastly and elaborate tableau and the name of a human vice (“Plunderer!”) branded on them both, it becomes clear that a serial killer is staging a week of public executions to cleanse the world of sinners and turning the city of Wroclaw upside down.
Yep, The Plagues of Breslau is a Polish knock-off of Seven, but it slowly becomes clear that Breslau is more insane than just being a mere knock-off. Little oddball decisions and character choices, like the ones above, are made cutting into the tale of vengeance until the movie is finally overwhelmed with silliness. Like any great-bad movie, Breslau takes itself seriously enough to be ironic fun. This thing flies off the rails so spectacularly and brazenly that I found myself finally giving over to giggles at it’s lunacy when it wanted us to be shocked at the violence or be indignant over it’s injustices. Like it’s own serial killer, it wants to create chaos and commotion. Every wild plot twist, gobsmacking character turn and overly elaborate expository lecture tears away it’s surface to it’s immature and farcical core. Hollywood movies are usually too serious and have too many internal controls to put out a movie this nutty. Still I can’t call it “bad”, because genuine, unironic, camp is hard to find.
If the plot is Seven, the tone more recalls the torture-porn-lite Ron Howard/Dan Brown adaptation Inferno – a tonal nightmare of ghastly public executions. Breslau‘s creative spark is in these execution set pieces. A cow hide from a stolen dairy farm, a horse with a man drawn and quartered, a public burning at the stake, a public hanging. The inherent problem with these stories is that the movie’s fuel is it’s gory set pieces and that conflicts with the ticking clock mystery of the cop’s motive to stop it. Meaning, we know they won’t be able to stop most of them because the movie has to show us more traps and torture devices. Seven has a third act turn that re-wires this (one that 25 years later, with the movie being rediscovered on Netflix, is still a secret worth keeping). What Breslau similarly has up it’s sleeve is both sloppy and labored. This movie even has a head in a box.
Breslau is exceedingly gruesome but in a cold medical autopsy sort of way. The gore is like everything else here, tactless and over the top. When a horse gallops through town, or a guy in a barrel rolls through the park, crowds leap over cars, fall in the streets and roll down hills in comically exaggerated ways. When a bomb goes off a Homeland Security agent, Magda, shows up in a ball cap and sweats and calls everyone stupid for not knowing the history of their own town. When Helena’s partner is thrown into a comma after an off-screen incident with the horse (blink and you’ll miss it), Magda takes an immediate interest in the stranger, rubbing down his body frantically while nobody bats an eye. Also left offscreen is Helena being knocked out, taken by the killer and released, left to be summed up in a throw-away line of dialog. Some of this is thinly skirting around a twist that the movie will spend it’s final act bending over itself to show in excruciating detail (and some of it isn’t). We get it long before it’s done explaining and it continues to explain.
Some things are best left unseen for tried-and-true filmmaking reasons. For years we’ve snickered and dismissed the way serial killers like Jigsaw seemingly have infinite time and resources to stage these elaborate kills. Here director/co-writer Patryk Vega makes the even bigger mistake of actually showing them rolling the torture wheel around, getting the trap set up. If even for a second, it’s a funny bit of illusion breaking. Vega also apparently thought it would be a good idea to mount a Go Pro on a horse to capture some of the action.
The premise of the movie follows a tale told by Magda: when Wroclaw was called Breslau, Frederick the Great apparently staged public execution every day at 6 PM to rid the town of sin and become a European metropolis. A premise that would make an interesting movie, except it is also complete fiction dreamed up by Vega. From it’s over-the-top performances, convoluted non-linear pretzel narrative, casual beheadings and the unintentionally hilarious smash-cut ending, Plagues of Breslau is a bonkers piece of pulp. It’s characters are broad and motives subtle as a sledgehammer to the larynx. If you ironically ate up The Predator or Birdemic or a cop parody from The Simpsons (damn boxes!) you might find this movie hitting the spot in a similarly outlandish vein. It’s fast, busy and super-dumb and I was never bored. It’s a mess, you will either be tortured or tickled by it.